How Weird Is Your Agency?

Some of my most enjoyable and productive days in this business were spent among weird but wonderful creative people. Those former co-workers brought high energy, side-splitting humor and an ability to see the world from their own peculiar, individualistic slants every day. They made great work, but also made creating that work FUN. They were also the opposite of corporate and homogenous. They were capable of donning suits and ties to meet clients, but generally preferred not to. And they were passionate about doing good work that was effective andboundary-pushing.

When those people left our increasingly corporate-leaning agency, we lost a lot of the creative vibrancy for which our clients originally sought us out. 

A recent AdAge article by Mark Wnek started out as an argument for creativity and weirdness going hand-in-hand in creative ad agencies, but strayed into a rant about how agencies are failing at diversity hiring, instead leaning toward corporate homogeneity. But his original point about creative weirdness is worth pursuing.

So… how weird are you?

Weird is part and parcel of the creative business we call advertising. So keeping an eye out for weirdness as you hire is important in your quest to find people who can “think different.” That weirdness does not need to be disruptive. Too many immensely weird people can turn an ad agency into a sideshow—like trying to conduct business at ComicCon. But look for small indicators of weirdness—quirky hobbies; an intriguing reading list; a fondness for strange movie genres; a preference for goofy socks. A little weirdness implies a rebellious streak, and a slightly askew way of viewing the world. Those traits can lead to insights and inspirations other, more “normal” types might ignore or overlook. 

Take a look at your creative output. Is it pushing boundaries? Does some of it make the clients, even you, a little uncomfortable? Are your campaigns memorable or quickly forgotten? Do other agency people approach you to congratulate you on recent work? Is your work exciting social buzz and conversation?

If the answer is generally “no,” take a look at your creative team. Have you inadvertently assembled a group that is a little too blended, too comfortable with doing the same things for different clients? Consider stirring up the mix by hiring creative people who can bring some weirdness to the conference table. Look for ways to get your current staff to let their personal quirks begin to inform their work. We are all a little weird on some level; the trick is to find ways to funnel that weirdness toward more creative thinking and doing.

Allow yourself to be weirder, too. 

Being weird is something most companies discourage; conformity is all. But if leaders model an openness to weirdness as not only acceptable, but absolutely a part of the creative process, your people will be more comfortable with just being their own slightly weird selves. Start letting your own weirdness out at meetings and in your employee interactions. See if being a little weird also makes you a bit bolder with client creative presentation, a mite more apt to go with the riskier idea, a few steps closer to casting aside reservations about a creative strategy and just going for it.

If you let your own weirdness out of its cage of conformity, your people will begin to do likewise. (Note: if you’re striving to be weird, it will seem forced. Letting your personal quirks breathe freely in the open takes practice, but becomes easier as you do it more often. Enjoy the freedom.)

Make your creative space weirder.

If your offices have become too tidy, ordinary and otherwise corporate, it may be time to shake up your décor. Find some fun, funky artwork to redecorate the walls. Add splashes of color to your common areas. Encourage employees to personalize their work areas with their own inspiration boards and creative toys. Keep a steady stream of eclectic reading material in your lobby and conference rooms. Introduce different kinds of music and debate its merits. Make the work environment more stimulating, and watch some weirdness begin to bleed into your people and culture. 

Weird Is Good

We’re all a little weird. For great agency creative work, you need to harness that weirdness as a tool for going where no creative has gone before… the outer reaches of ad agency ideation. Start exploring your universe of weird. The payoff is better creative work, and very likely, way more fun for everyone in your agency, including you.

Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among non-conformists, dissenters and rebels.

David Ogilvy